Dr Jean Damascène Ntawukuliryayo stepped down as Senate president yesterday after 15 members of the Upper House signed a petition calling for an extra ordinary session to deliberate on his leadership style and conduct.
The Upper House comprises 26 senators. The Senate president is the second highest-ranking official in Rwanda.
According to Tito Rutaremara, one of the Senators who signed the petition, Ntawukuliryayo abused his position as Senate president, undermined the senatorial rules and procedures, consequently affecting the effectiveness of top senatorial organs and the Upper House in general.
During the session, Rutaremara, who is in charge of discipline in the Senate, outlined some of the alleged offenses that irked the members and prompted them to sign the petition.
They include; taking unilateral decisions, sidestepping the Bureau (the Senate’s supreme organ, comprised of the president and his two deputies), interfering in administrative matters such as recruitment process and not presiding over the sittings and activities of the Bureau and the Committee for Chairpersons as required.
How the events unfolded
The extra-ordinary senate session was called at 3pm. After members of the Upper House took their seats, Ntawukuriryayo announced that he was stepping down with immediate effect and requested his fellow senators to accept his resignation.
He then invited Senate Vice-President Bernard Makuza to chair the emergency session that unanimously accepted the Senate president’s resignation.
Makuza, whose docket covers Legislation and Government Oversight, explained that the resignation had been prompted by the petition demanding that the Senate be recalled from recess to discuss a list of concerns pertaining to Ntawukuriryayo’s leadership of the upper chamber of parliament.
The floor was then opened.
A couple of other senators accused Ntawukuliryayo of breaching several provisions in the Upper House’s internal rules and regulations, including interference with a parliamentary audit exercise.
Makuza offered Ntawukuliryayo the opportunity to respond to the issues raised, but he declined to react to the matters brought forward. He instead thanked the senators for accepting his resignation and pledged to fulfill his duties as senator.
The session lasted 35 minutes.
After the session, Ntawukuliryayo walked straight to his office in the block adjacent to the Plenary Hall, and turned down journalists’ requests for comment.
Speaking to The New Times, Senator Fatou Harerimana said Ntawukuliryayo’s conduct had created an uneasy atmosphere within the Bureau and the Conference of Chairpersons (a forum of heads of standing committees and the Bureau members), which naturally affected the operations of the Senate.
“I’m not a member of the Conference of Chairpersons but our colleagues always came out of the meetings complaining about the president’s modus operandi,” she said.
However, Harerimana welcomed Ntawukuliryayo’s decision to resign, calling it ‘honourable’.
Senator Makuza explained to journalists that the person holding the position of Senate president is expected to facilitate smooth running of the House.
“In the Senate, we work as a team; the president is supposed to ensure the effective running of the institution in collaboration with the other members, it’s not a one-man’s show,” Makuza told The New Times.
Senators said Ntawukuliryayo had repeatedly been advised by his colleagues in the House and the country's highest authorities to change his ways in vain.
The Senate is charged with representing the population; passing legislation; scrutinising and overseeing the Executive; approving the appointment of some senior state officials; supervising the application of the principles of unity and reconciliation and fighting genocide ideology.
It works closely with the 80-member Chamber of Deputies.
According to the law, the President of the Republic as up to 30 days (from yesterday) to convene the Senate for members to pick the next Senate president.
Who is Ntawukuliryayo?
Before joining the bicameral Parliament, first as a member of the Chamber of Deputies in 2008, Ntawukuliryayo had spent many years in the Cabinet, having served as State minister for Higher Education (1999) before going on to become the Minister for Infrastructure (2002) and Minister for Health (2004).
He joined the Chamber of Deputies on the ticket of PSD in 2008, and later stood for president in the 2010 elections, which he lost to President Kagame, polling a paltry 4.9 per cent of the total votes cast.
Kagame would in October 2011, pick him as a senator, and his colleagues in the chamber chose him as the president of the country’s second senate.
Previously, the 53-year-old served as vice rector in charge of administration and finance at the former National University of Rwanda, before joining cabinet in late 1990s.
Ntawukuliryayo holds a PhD in pharmaceutical technology from Ghent University in Belgium.